The West Highland Way is 96 miles up the West coast of Scotland, between Milngavie & Fort William. Before setting off my fiancée and I joked that it would be the ultimate pre-marriage test and it has definitely shown us that we can work as a team, help each other through difficult times and delight in one another no matter the weather.
Who cleans the cat litter will be a breeze in future.
Here are seven observations on a challenging but rewarding unforgettable experience. With pictures included, of course!
Day One: Milngavie to Drymen (12 miles)
We set off at 10am in the rain – hoping that this wasn’t a sign of the weather to come! It’s a reasonably straightforward start through woods and fields just North of Glasgow.
About half way through the day, we bumped into a couple of guys who very kindly were offering drinks and snacks to passers-by. However, the conversation quickly turned when we told him where we were only doing 12 miles on day one.
“Och, ye’ll be chasin’ yer tail all week! Mark my words you’ll regret that! Get yerselves to Balmaha tonight for a head start or you’ll be doomed!”
I’ve completed the walk before and we had spent many hours investigating the route. We were happy with our stops. They were booked in advance so there was no way of changing them even if this man was right. He didn’t know that though, as we couldn’t get a word in edgeways.
Observation: Don’t be too miserable or negative.
If you need to criticise others stop and think. Hold back if those you are criticising are, for example, 6 miles in to a 96 mile hike.
Day Two: Drymen to Rowardennen (15 miles)
Half way through this day is Conic Hill – which gives amazing views of Loch Lomond. The weather was kind to us so it was a good day.
When we stopped for lunch, Christine accidently ordered tea instead of coffee, which she never drinks as she doesn’t like it. However she thought she would give it a go… and she liked it!
Observation: Try new things.
This does not exactly come into the category of “do one thing every day that scares you” but do change some established habits: what’s the worst that can happen?
Day Three: Rowardennen to Inverarnan (14 miles)
This was the most challenging day by far, physically and emotionally. It wasn’t helped by a grumpy member of staff as we left our accommodation or the fact that Christine injured her knee half way through the morning.
Walking along the Bonnie Banks is more rock climbing than hiking. It took us 10 hours to walk 14 miles.
We spotted a sign from afar saying “My Granny’s Special Recipe: Traditional Scottish Tablet” and we were sold! Just as we were selecting the biggest pieces, as you do, a friendly sheep dog approached to say hello and lift our spirits. We put our money into the “honesty box” and we were on our way, sugar rush guaranteed!
Observation: Smile and play nice.
Dogs can provide better customer service than humans without even knowing what customer service is. The sheepdog lifted our spirits and made our day.
Day Four: Inverarnan to Strathfillan, near Tyndrum (10 miles)
The rain returned and the midges were particularly bad but that didn’t deter us as we knew that at the end of today, we were over half way.
Each day we would set mini-goals for ourselves: how many miles until the next break/stop/meal? It’s far too daunting to think about the whole 96 miles, so breaking it down into little chunks helped us massively.
Observation: Set goals to give you direction of travel and measure your achievements.
What is your reason to throw the duvet back in the morning? You need to find it, nurture it, set targets against it. And when you achieve it? Set some more.
Day Five: Strathfillan to Kingshouse (19 miles)
Given that our accommodation was a little further South, we had unfortunately made our longest day even longer. For that reason, we had intended to leave at 6am but there was a massive thunderstorm happening outside so we waited until that passed and we were on our way.
It was a long but relatively straightforward day and the first stretch was a dream. The views coming into Glencoe are spectacular and this was by far the highlight of the hike for me.
We arrived at our accommodation to check-in and were told that we had walked a mile past it, down hill. To be told this at the end of a 19 mile day isn’t ideal, so 19 became 21!
Observation: Always check the detail.
The big picture is often what gets the attention and grabs the headlines, but details are always what matter in the end.
Day Six: Kingshouse to Kinlochleven (10 miles)
Distance-wise this day seemed relatively straightforward but you are going up and over a hill into Kinlochleven. We never anticipated this and took longer than expected.
When we finally arrived at the campsite, the shower was spectacular. Given that previous showers required £1 to operate for a limited time and were low on power, our spirits were again lifted by getting a right good clean.
Oberservation: Enjoy life’s simple pleasures.
You can’t beat a good shower anytime, anywhere. Learn to celebrate the little things in life that put you in a good place. Call it happiness, mindfulness or contentment or whatever, but pay heed to it.
Day Seven: Kinlochleven to Fort William (16 miles)
Our microlodges had a telly, so it was nice to be able to have a cup of coffee and catch up on the news whilst preparing ourselves for the final day.
The rain was on and off but we were in a determined mood on the final stretch. We made good time until the final 4-5 miles, where my ankle started to play up. So it was a hobble to the end.
But we made it!
We had specifically booked a room with a spa bath at our B&B in Fort William, knowing that it would be a welcome treat at the end of the hike. It was definitely worth the investment.
It was Christine’s birthday too, so I emailed them and arranged for flowers to be in the room as a surprise for her. They added Prosecco & chocolate cake, which was a nice surprise for me!
We went out to a cracking fish restaurant for our double celebration and they sang Happy Birthday to Christine at the end. She was suitably embarrassed (but loved it really).
Observation: Celebrate success.
At the end of a long process, make sure that you take the time to reflect on what you have achieved and look back with some pride.
If you are thinking of doing the West Highland Way and would like any advice, I’d be happy to help.
Have you done the West Highland Way or anything like it? Let me know!.
Thanks for reading!
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about the author
Matt Wardrop is our Client Relationship Manager. If you would like to know more about this subject, drop him an email and we will be in touch.